The new 50 liter FERNWEH bag from WANDRD ticks a lot of boxes and is one of the most comfortable and versatile bags I’ve ever used. If you’re after a sturdy bag to follow you into the wilds, this is definitely a contender.
WANDRD is a relatively young company with a steadily growing number of products available (check out the array of straps that I reviewed last month) and, like other newcomers to the world of camera bags, it continues to offer some interesting and innovative design choices.
The 50 liter FERNWEH is no exception and while there are few elements that aren’t perfect, this has become my bag of choice for big trips out in the forest, being especially useful for long treks and those days where you need to be able to carry a combination of camera gear and outdoor equipment, as well as food. Bags that are able to separate my climbing chalk and snacks from everything else are critical for me and the FERNWEH makes that possible — without compromising on versatility.
Having completed its Kickstarter back in November, it’s now available to purchase in two colors for $349. This is a feature-rich bag with a couple of intelligent choices and interesting idiosyncrasies.
Built very much with ruggedness in mind, the main exterior of the bag is comprised of waterproof tarpaulin and ballistic nylon. It’s available in two colors: black and “gobi tan.” I received the black version which is so black that it almost sucks in light making me wonder if WANDRD has borrowed some ideas from MIT and used some carbon nanotubes to make the blackest black bag ever created. Goths will love the degree of absolute noir that runs throughout the bag inside and out, though it can make finding small, often black camera knickknacks something of a challenge. This bag is so black that putting it down on a dark night carries significant risk that you won’t find it again. In short, it’s a very, very black bag.
Given how much is happening on the bag’s exterior with its wealth of straps, loops, and zips, it’s surprising how smart and minimal the overall look and feel of the bag is, blending WANDRD’s urban aesthetics with technical features that are designed for performance in the outdoors. Much like its more urban counterpart, the HEXAD Access 45 L Duffel, which I reviewed in 2018, this is a bag that looks and feels better when it is fully packed out as, half full, it crumples in on itself, slightly undermining its sleekness.
Designed for long days on the trail, the bag comes in two sizes to ensure a good fit: small/medium, and medium/large. In addition, the straps can be repositioned, giving you even more assurance that this will be a comfortable carry.
The back panel is framed by aluminum rods on three sides to give the bag some rigidity, allowing the bag to keep its shape, spread the load, and sit in position against your back without sagging. (WANDRD mentions that these rods are removable but I’ve no idea how or why you would do this.)
Comfort is where this bag absolutely shines (despite being so black): this is the most comfortable bag I’ve ever worn. The padding on the shoulder straps is insanely generous and the waist belt is so well padded that I feel like I’m being tenderly hugged. The weight distributes itself very evenly across the hips and shoulders and the bag cinches snugly against the body with no slippage in the straps however much you bounce around.
The waist belt is removable but it’s threaded through a tight pass-through that has a lot of velcro. I briefly tried fighting with this but quickly gave up.
As you’d expect from a bag designed for trekking, the shoulder straps have load lifters (i.e., adjustments at the top above the shoulder) and the adjustable sternum strap (complete with innovative quick-release system) makes the bag feel as much a part of your own body as possible.
All of the straps feature various loops for attaching bits and bobs and the waist strap has a very large pocket that easily could accommodate most phones five times over.
Like the inside of the shoulder and waist straps, the back panel has airflow mesh to allow it to breathe. Being winter here in France, I’m yet to build up a sweat in a t-shirt while out with this bag so I can’t judge its efficacy.
There are four grab handles for easy maneuvering and loops, compression straps, and bonus straps aplenty.
The main body of the bag can be used as a single cavity, but your typical setup for carrying camera gear will be to divide it into two. WANDRD offer a number of cubes which, in ascending size are called Mini, Essential and Pro. I’ve been using the Essential which splits the bag’s main compartment evenly, sitting at the bottom of the FERNWEH and offering enough space for a large body and two or three chunky lenses. As I understand it, the Mini is smaller while the Pro is larger and will consume closer to three quarters of the bag’s main cavity.
The Essential cube included for me by WANDRD is greatly improved over the cube I received when reviewing the HEXAD in 2018. All around there is more padding and it feels more stable as a unit, giving you greater confidence that your gear is protected. When fitting the cube into the FERNWEH, the lid folds away, its padding becoming an extra layer of protection by sitting against the bottom of the bag and allowing access via the FERNWEH’s back panel. The side flap of the cube then slots inside the side-access panel of the FERNWEH, holding it in place and allowing for easy access. There’s a little bit of room alongside the cube once it’s in place should you need to max out your load.
Alongside my camera gear, I’m usually carrying climbing equipment and a day’s worth of food. The FERNWEH has an extra means of dividing the interior cavity in half thanks to its removable bucket system, which prevents your non-cube items from sliding all the way down and getting lost deep inside the bag’s interior. It also ensures another layer of division between your food and your camera gear which for me is incredibly useful given that I typically carry a small pouch of chalk for climbing.
As a result, the FERNWEH’s main compartment has four configurations:
- no cube: for when you’re not carrying any camera equipment and want to use the interior as one large 50-liter cavity;
- cube and no bucket: I’m not sure when I’d want to use this
- cube plus bucket. This is my default and keeps my stuff organized. It also puts two layers of division between camera gear and food/chalk
- just bucket: a useful way of dividing up your gear for days of hiking without camera equipment
Camera rucksacks often require you to decide between side access or back-panel access; the FERNWEH offers both.
For those moments when you want quick access to your camera, the side panel offers convenience, though you won’t be able to reach through to anything else. To get full access to your camera gear, the back panel features a large clamshell that unzips on three sides and hinges from the bottom of the bag. The zips are a little tricky to access as they are tucked behind the padding of the back panel and there are the heavily padded shoulder straps that also need to be navigated. (Front panel clamshells avoid this problem but then there’s the issue that to get at your camera gear, you’re often putting your bag down in the mud and then transferring that moisture to your back when you pick up your stuff and move on.)
Instead of the classic drawstring-plus-lid or roll-top enclosure system, the FERNWEH has top access via lid that has a zip that traces three sides of the bag and hinges on the fourth. The zip sits underneath a fold of tarpaulin material that creates an overhang to prevent water from getting inside. Initially, I found this zip annoying as the flappy overhang was in the way and unless the bag is packed out, the material sits a little loose making the zip tricky to slide. However, once you fold that top flap completely out of the way, the zip is far easier to manage. I’m always a little bit suspicious of the life expectancy of any zip that turns corners but this one is generously chunky and smooth.
There is a third, vaguely triangular-shaped clamshell opening on the front of the bag that is only really practical when you’re using the FERNWEH without the bucket which otherwise cuts you off from the top half of the bag’s interior. The bucket includes an extra zip so that this method of access is possible but going through the top would be quicker and easier. This clamshell is of most use when you’re using the FERNWEH as a single-cavity rucksack as it allows you good access to your gear without having to fight your way down through all of your stuff from the top.
This front clamshell is also home to a large quick-grab pocket opened via a single, vertical zip. Though large, this pocket is quite spacious and I’ve been using it for my small tripod (more on this later). Within, there is a smaller, elasticated pocket and clip for a water bladder (the bag arrives with a note on how to thread your tube).
There’s another single-zip grab pocket on the exterior of the of the bag that will easily take a map and guidebook and includes a clip for your keys. You’ll find another similar-sized pocket on the inside of this lid, this time in mesh.
The inside of the quick-access flap has a zip pocket complete with mesh dividers for smaller items.
On the side of the bag opposite to the quick-access flap, you’ll find a large, zipped pocket for your water bottle. It easily accommodates a 32 oz bottle with room to spare and has a drainage hole in the event of any leaks. My tripod — the fairly compact Corey by 3 Legged Thing — doesn’t quite fit, though that’s not too much of a problem. Instead, the zip stays open and the tripod is secured using one of the compression straps.
The inside of the back panel has a padded sleeve with a Velcro flap for storing a laptop (up to 15 “). There’s also a secret pocket tucked into the back panel for stowing away your passport.
On the bottom of the bag is an extra flap that can be hooked in place to stow a large jacket or sleeping bag. You could place a large tripod here but that would be loading a lot of weight quite low on the bag and given that the camera gear already sits at the bottom of this bag, this doesn’t strike me as ideal.
WANDRD offers a pack of accessory straps ($15) in the event that you need even more means of attaching stuff (and there are plenty of loops available), perhaps to allow you to centrally load a tripod rather than having it hanging off one side of the bag and taking up the water bottle pocket. (Your other option would be to hang it off the other side using the compression straps but this would block the quick-access side panel.)
The FERNWEH is an excellent rucksack and is now my bag of choice for big days in the forest. Access via the back panel is a bit fiddly but not a deal-breaker and the bucket system is ingenious. The tarpaulin material picks up marks very easily (which wipe off just as quickly) but as someone who lives in outdoor clothing covered in mud and full of holes, this isn’t an issue.
Comfort and versatility are what make this bag exceptional. I’ve not figured out how best you would carry a large tripod but as I hate tripods and rarely use one, this isn’t a great concern for me.
What I Liked
- Rugged and water-resistant
- Bucket system is ingenious
- Camera cube system is greatly improved
- Lots of versatility
- Supremely comfortable
What I Didn’t Like
- Unzipping the back panel is a bit fiddly
- The plethora of plastic buckles and adjusters, though strong, give it a slightly unrefined feel
- Those hauling big tripods might want to check the best means of attachment
- Daft name
The ruggedness, comfort, and versatility of this bag make it a fine choice for big days out on the trails. The bucket system is a great way to keep your gear organized and gives multiple configurations that make it ideal for non-camera days, too.